Archive for March, 2009

LCC2 – Jeff Burke – Language as Growth-in-Time

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


You know, what strikes me as the most amusing aspect of Jeff’s opener
is that if you look at his picture (the one before his talk starts), he looks an awful lot like a president, but not Lincoln. In fact, his picture rather reminds me of George Washington, or perhaps John Adams with James Madison’s eyes…

It’s always encouraging (to me, I suppose) to hear conlangers defend conlanging as art. The problem I have with many of the arguments I’ve heard against conlanging being an art (as opposed to something else much less creative, like putting together a puzzle) from conlangers themselves is that after a bit of back and forth, I often hear something like, “Well, you can call it whatever you want; I don’t consider it an art, and what I do isn’t art.” As if that’s an argument! I don’t paint well, and what I paint most certainly isn’t art, but that doesn’t mean that painting isn’t an art—and that’s what the issue is!

I know Jeff somewhat (or I should say I’ve been getting to know him better recently), and in addition to an expert conlanger, Jeff is also a fiction writer (so when he compares conlanging to writing in the beginning, he’s not speaking hypothetically: he’s speaking from experience). I think the comparison to fiction is quite apt. Consider, after all, what fiction is. In the most basic sense, it’s a transcription of events that never occurred. One might ask, what possible use could this serve? For example, why write a story about a fictional character when there are real live people everywhere in the world who are dying and whose stories will never be heard?

Of course, if you’ve ever read or heard a fictional story that’s affected you powerfully (and I gather that most people have, even if that story was something as simple as The Giving Tree), you won’t need to hear another defense of fiction; those were arguments for long ago that have been largely settled. One thing I find interesting in the comparison, though, is how similar the activities are.


With fiction, the canvas is wide open.
A writer can write about anything, even if it doesn’t make sense. Readers, though, judge the value of the work based on its goals. Many novels, for example, try to be realistic, and the reader can then judge how realistic the book is (how lifelike the characters are, how likely the reactions of the characters are, how believable the events…). Then there are any number of books that don’t try to be realistic; that try to express something in non-literal or fantastic ways. Conlangs, of course, are quite similar.

One important difference, though (or perceived difference) is that books, in the end, should try to tell us something. It would be odd to read a starkly realistic book that began with a woman leaving her house to go to the store, and ended after she’d picked up her third item at the store, with nothing else implied. There must be a reason that the author is showing us what they’re showing us—a goal, a purpose—perhaps a lesson, or a point of view.

Conlangs don’t differ, in my experience. There is a point; conlangs aren’t merely tools. What the user or appreciator is supposed to get, though, is something conlangers don’t generally talk about—perhaps something they don’t often think about. It’s there, though; there is a point—something we’re supposed to take away. It differs language by language, of course, but these goals or ideas (worldviews?) are something that shouldn’t be ignored, either by the creator or the appreciator.


(P.S.: If you’re going to LCC3 and you have a cold,
don’t sit near a mic! [Just teasing!] Or, perhaps more generally, recall that any sound you make during someone’s talk or during someone’s question and answer session will be heard the world over, and recorded for posterity. Cosmic, huh?)

This video is part of the 2nd Language Creation Conference, held at UC Berkeley on July 7-8, 2007, and hosted by Language Creation Society.

We would like to add closed captioning / subtitles to all the videos from LCC2, including this one. If you are willing to help, install Subtitle Workshop, and email your transcribed .sub file to lcs@conlang.org. In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

Interview with Tony Harris

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009
 
Sai interviews Tony Harris about his language Alurhsa. The conversation covers such topics as the grammar of Alurhsa, Tony’s spirituality, and role a conlanger plays in the creation of a language.
mp3The Alurhsa WebsiteBoudewijn Rempt’s “Apologia pro Imaginatione”


It’s funny, because right off the bat, I recognized something familiar
in this interview. The first thing was, “Oh, I do remember Alurian!” I didn’t realize that Alurhsa and Alurian (or Aluric) were, in fact, the same thing.

And that leads to the next bit: the problem of naming. As you’ll hear, apparently “Alurian” and “Aluric” were doing fine as names until Tony found that “Alurian”, for example, occurs in a lot of personal names and other contexts (try googling “Alurian” [though note the first hit]). As a result, Tony decided to go with the native name, “Alurhsa”.

First, I’d note that this was bound to happen. If you name a conlang anything that ends in “-ian”, “-ese”, “-ic”, “-ish”, or any other of the very common English suffixes that get attached to real world language names, it’s only a matter of time before someone else comes up with it (with or without a language attached). (After all, if someone’s going to lie on a job application, what sounds more like a language: Aluric or Epiq?)

Second, I have had this happen to me. I created a language I initially called “Kele”, and added a section for it to my website, describing its bric-a-brac and what have you. And that’s how it lived happily for a couple years, I’d say. Then one day I received an appalling e-mail. Not only was there an existing natural language named “Kele”, but apparently someone had mistaken me for an expert on the Kele language, and was asking me questions about it! In fact, if you believe the internet (which is rarely a good idea), there are apparently two Kele languages: one Austronesian, and another Niger-Congo!

Luckily for the person who e-mailed me, I was also a linguistics student, and knew something about language and where one might go for more information. As a direct result of the exchange, though, I changed the name of my language to Kelenala, and thereafter, whenever I decided to name a language, I made liberal use of Google to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes.


Several conlangers listening to this interview might be taken aback
at the level of involvement Tony has with Alurhsa—especially the metaphysical stuff (the possible existence of speakers of Alurhsa in this or some other dimension; the religious aspect; etc.). But before you judge him, I ask you this: how fluent are you in your conlang? I, for example (as has been discussed before), have got the structure of most of my conlangs down, but always seem to be hunting for vocabulary. This is an experience (a condition?) that many conlangers share.

Pragmatically, then, let us consider: Which type of conlang-conlanger relationship seems to be more efficacious in developing fluency in a conlang? We’ve noted that a number of conlangers with an author-creation type of relationship can’t speak their languages, and, just off the top of my head, I can think of a number of other conlangers who have a more metaphysical relationship with their conlangs who speak it quite well.

So. Could the relationship be…causal? In a metaphysical way, perhaps. In a realistic way, it probably simply ensures a level of involvement with one’s language that may (not of necessity, but may) go into greater depth and take up more time than the usual level of involvement a conlanger has with their conlang. And what, after all, leads to fluency but time and involvement?

Audio edited by Virgo Audio Production Services; music by Gary Shannon.

3rd Language Creation Conference preview

Thursday, March 5th, 2009
 

The 3rd Language Creation Conference is only a month away.

We have a somewhat different assortment of presentations than the last two conferences.

At LCC2 we debuted three new presentation styles: minitalks (15 minute talks just about a particular language), workshops (1-2 hour hands-on practice of something), and panels / discussions. The feedback we received asked for more of these, so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve also added a new category—posters—so that people who don’t necessarily want to talk on stage can still present something of interest.

Two of our nine “posters” so far for LCC3 are in fact full exhibits in their own right. Steven Travis’ Tapissary was last displayed at the Amos Eno gallery in New York City (see it on YouTube). Donald Boozer’s Esperanto, Elvish, and Beyond was a major exhibit at the Cleveland Public Library for four months, as well as the subject of interviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the SETI Institute’s Are We Alone? radio show.


LCC3 also has a strong orthographic and artistic streak.

We’re excited to have the world premiere showing of a new short film, “Conlang”, by Swan Dive Films (see the sketch on YouTube).

Two of our talks come (broadly) from the world of electronic literature – John Cayley discussing Xu Bing’s Book From the Sky, and Diana Slattery about entheogen-inspired xenolinguistics, glossolalia, and her own ?orthography, Glide.

We also have several presentations on writing systems – including a presentation on Kelen’s Ceremonial Interlace Alphabet by Sylvia Sotomayor, a presentation on the practical design of non-linear writing systems by Schuyler Duveen, an introduction to orthography and font creation (with hands-on workshop!) by David Peterson, and a panel discussion about unusual orthographies.


Not being able to come in person doesn’t mean you can’t participate!

Just like with LCC2, LCC3 will be simulcast live online. You’ll be able to chat with others who are present virtually, as well as ask questions of the speaker through a moderator.

Unlike LCC2, whose simulcast was only in audio, LCC3’s simulcast will be in video, so you’ll have a better sense of what’s going on in the room.

All you have to do is go to http://conlang.org/lcc3/live.php at 8am EST on March 21st and 22nd.

Of course, LCC3 will eventually appear on this podcast as well, in higher quality.